The Career Commencement Challenge

 

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

July 2005

 

Billy Gilman is back from recess.

Professionally derailed by the trials of puberty for the past three years, the Rhode Island country singing sensation is hoping for a new lease on life with his recently released album Everything And More.

Billy Gilman during his “One Voice” days

But Gilman, who stormed onto the Billboard country charts at the age of 11 as the genre’s youngest recording artist with the double platinum album One Voice in 2000, finds a new challenge awaiting him at 17: the transition from child to adult music star.

“I loved having no worries as a kid. Now I have a lot of worries, ” he laughs. “Now I get nervous a lot more. Before, when I put out a record it was, like, ‘Oh, I’m excited. I’ve got nothing to lose.’

“Now I’ve had a career for six or seven years and the nerves and reality are coming into play. That little-child innocence isn’t there anymore.”

 

A very young Aaron Carter

Aaron Carter can relate. After selling over four million records of his cherubic pop, the 17-year-old younger brother of The Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter also finds himself at an important crossroads. As he records his sixth album, he’s faced with the task of choosing a sound that will appeal to more mature audiences without alienating his established fan base.

“It’s really tough,” says Carter, who has a role in the upcoming 20th Century film Supercross. “Eventually your fans grow up and don’t want to listen to cheesy music anymore. Some of them lean towards more rap music, some of them lean towards more Ryan Cabrera-styled music — it’s really just about finding the middle, but also being comfortable.

“Right now, I’m just trying to find and figure out the style of music I really want to do, which is a little bit of R&B and a bit of soft rock. I want to stay along the lines of some of the stuff I’ve done, but also move on.”

 

The conversion to long-term artistic credibility isn’t insurmountable, but it is difficult. As Reebee Garofalo, Ed.D Clinical Psychology and Public Practice and Community and Media Technology professor at Harvard University observes, most young acts find their public introduction targeted at an equally youthful audience, with trained professionals controlling and manipulating the creative aspects of their vocations.

As performers develop, their tastes change.

“In the early stage of teen poppers’ careers, you’ve got the old school Tin Pan Alley division of labor with professional A&R people matching singers with professional songwriters to come up with material,” notes Garofalo, author of Rockin’ Out: Popular Music In The U.S.A.

Reebee Garofolo photo by Joe Mabel

“As they mature, their music becomes a more personal statement and that dictates a much different division of labor, with them taking on more of that creative function.”

Compounding matters is the young artist’s image, often sculpted to exploit their budding sexuality. If their image overshadows the music, Garofalo says the chances of post pin-up career survival are slim.

“If there’s no substance behind the image, when that image is no longer appropriate, they’re going to disappear.”

Image still plays a crucial role even if the music does have legs beyond a teen audience, finds Anastasia Goodstein, founder and publisher of Ypulse: Media For The Next Generation, a blog about Generation Y for media and marketing professionals.

“It’s really a question of how far you can go before you cross the line and alienate your audience,” notes Goodstein, also manager of Viewer Created Content at Current TV, the new Al Gore-financed television channel for 18-34 year olds launching August 1.

“If your audience is mostly young people, especially if it’s girls and tweens, then I think you walk a really fine line with how far you can go.

Anastasia Goodstein

“Someone like Hilary Duff or even Mandy Moore, when she was doing music, seemed to keep that in check. But for Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, going from somewhat innocent to full-on sexual adult outside of their performances, in their personal lives, in the tabloids and the gossip blogs, it does damage them a little bit. It alienates a lot of the people who may have been buying their actual music.”

Goodstein says young stars searching for a mature audience should find the right producer.

“If you can come back with something kind of good, as Justin Timberlake did — he broke out and took it to the next level, making very smart choices about his solo effort,” says Goodstein.

“Finding really good producers will help you make the transition.”

She also suggests that teen music idols avoid any behavior that would make good tabloid fodder.

“A lot of people would say any publicity is good publicity, but for some of these former teen stars, anything that has to do with being arrested, hitting somebody or partying a little too much and making an ass of yourself – I don’t think that stuff looks good or does anything but alienate their younger core audience.”

Then there’s always the danger, Goodstein warns, of falling into the trap of multi-hyphenated talent.

“It always seems like everybody wants to be that triple threat – do movies, TV and everything else,” Goodstein explains. “Very few people can successfully do it, and maybe the risk of that is doing it really poorly. So that temptation to spread yourself a little thin and try to be the triple threat and the star versus the music star might be a pitfall for some people.”

Self-contained artists – those who write, record and perform their own music – tend to weather the adjustment better, says Isaac Hanson, guitarist with the Tulsa sibling trio Hanson. When the band debuted in 1997, Isaac, Taylor and Zac — 16, 13 and 11 at the time — hit pay dirt with its debut album Middle Of Nowhere, selling more than four million copies.

Hanson then…
Hanson…now

Now running its own 3CG Records label, Isaac Hanson says the trio is currently in a rebuilding process, selling over 150,000 copies of its 2004 album Underneath, scoring a U.K. Top 10 hit with “Penny & Me” and continuing to sell out soft-seater venues wherever they tour.

“I don’t feel like the barriers are insurmountable because the foundation that we have musically is the only thing that ever mattered,” Hanson states. “We are in a better position than ever because we’re dealing with a growing fan base.”

Hanson says that for most adolescent recording artists, a backlash may inevitable considering the cyclical nature of pop music.

“When you reach a critical mass, that backlash happens. It’s always a challenge. Whether you’re U2, Maroon 5, Hanson or anybody else, it’s about continually moving forward. That’s difficult no matter who you are.”

Aaron Carter, whose older brother’s Backstreet Boys found themselves back near the top of the Billboard Top 200 charts recently after a four-year absence, remains undeterred.

“My ultimate goal is to just make my fans happy and sing good music for them, because eventually I’m not going to be that young, cute-looking kid,” he explains. “And I don’t want to be looked at like that anymore. I don’t want to be referred to as that and just being in the pop star magazines.

“The main thing is being careful and watching where you’re stepping, because eventually there are going to be some holes that you’re going to step in, and getting out is my problem.”

Billy Gilman is also optimistic. He feels that his time away from the spotlight will bolster interest in his current album.

“The advantage is that people are wondering what I’m sounding like, ” says Gilman. “There’s a lot of intrigue now.”

But he’s all too aware that public taste can change on a dime.

“You can’t see what tomorrow is going to bring,” notes Gilman. “Your stock can fade as quickly as you came, so you live each day in the moment.”

 

The Sweet Smell of Success

The Sweet Smell Of Success
October 22, 2009

Recording artists bottle their success

GRAMMY.com
Nick Krewen

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have not only experienced the sweet smell of success, they’ve bottled it.

Country music’s first couple has a couple of new scents on the market — Faith Hill Parfums is her first and Southern Blend is his second — and they are just two of the music celebrities that have been tapped by Coty Inc., the world’s largest fragrance manufacturer with annual net sales of approximately $4 billion.

The list of artists sporting one or more of their own perfume or cologne brands run from the obvious (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani) to the enterprising (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Usher) to the unexpected (rapper Daddy Yankee, guitar shaman Carlos Santana and cosmetic rockers KISS).

The fragrance industry also seems to be impartial to genre, with American soprano Renée Fleming, pop/punk princess Avril Lavigne, hip-hop icon Queen Latifah and influential innovator Prince all offering aromatic toiletries for public consumption.

Why are stars so keen to extend their aural appeal to the nasal? Well, there’s the obvious answer: money. Fashion newspaper Women’s Wear Daily speculates that Beyoncé‘s upcoming Coty fragrance will be one of 2010’s most-anticipated spring debuts and could earn her $20 million over three years.

Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group, says helping to create a representative scent can be another expressive outlet.

“Sometimes celebrities say, ‘We’re not just about making another record,’ so being associated with a fragrance is a statement saying, ‘We’re an artist. We’re looking at this as an expression of our artistic talent.’

“It’s a great way to earn huge recognition across the country. And fans, who may not have the new album, can have a little piece of that celebrity as well.”

In many cases, it’s an affordable piece of celebrity. A 1.7-ounce bottle of McGraw’s Southern Blend — described as “a vibrant burst of grapefruit, star anise, and bergamot” that also incorporate touches of lavender, violet leaves, whiskey accord, vetiver, fresh amber, and tobacco to “create the ideal fragrance for the true Southern gentleman” — can be purchased in department stores or online for a suggested retail price of $30.

As Grant notes, this can be very appealing to fans. “If you’re a huge Britney follower, you’d want the scent as well as the albums,” she says.

It was Spears — along with Lopez and her fragrance Glow — who accelerated the trend of companies recruiting contemporary music stars to invent and introduce new fragrances when she entered the market in 2004 with the Elizabeth Arden brand Curious, which earned $100 million in sales within weeks of its release.

“Those two were such huge hits, really, that they helped to ignite this whole trend of associating the musician with these fragrances,” Grant explains. “So I think that’s when both the musicians as well as the manufacturers began to look and say, ‘This seems like it could be a winning lineup.'”

And it’s certainly been victorious for Spears. Women’s Wear Daily reports that more than 10 million bottles of Curious, Fantasy and In Control have been sold since 2005, and Spears has expanded her franchise this year with the additions of Circus Fantasy and Hidden Fantasy.

Since then, approximately 40 artists from Shania Twain to Hilary Duff have taken the plunge, with hit fragrances — like music — tracked weekly by Nielsen SoundScan.

So how do pop and rock stars come to release fragrances?

Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing at Coty Beauty (whose musical clients besides Hill and McGraw include Celine Dion, Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Stefani, and Twain), says his company approaches artists based on a number of criteria, including role model potential, someone who “holds high values” and how much they embody the essence of femininity or masculinity.

In all cases, he says Coty is looking for a long-term relationship and an artist “who wants to become involved with the fragrance” from development through execution.

With estimated launch costs of “not less than $2 million,” on the line, Mormoris says extensive market research is conducted before a brand is launched. “We don’t put out a fragrance until we’re absolutely certain it’s going to be a success,” he explains, adding that celebrities are usually paid on a royalty basis as opposed to a flat fee as an incentive, “ensuring that artists are involved for the life of the product.”

Mormoris says hits are determined by sales-generated value and market share percentage, rather than number of units sold, and that the average celebrity scent has a shelf life of five to 10 years.

“The exceptions are Stetson and Elizabeth Taylor‘s White Diamonds, which has been the no. 1 fragrance for the past 20 years,” notes Mormoris. “They’re exceptions to the rule.”

While celebrity popularity can drive fragrance sales, packaging also plays a crucial role.

“As new celebrity fragrances come out and they encompass novelty in design and fun, they still do well,” says Grant. “For example, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers collection was among the best sellers in 2008.

“We do see that younger consumers do tend to resonate with packaging more as well. Since these celebrity fragrances do tend to be more popular with the younger consumer, it’s usually a pretty winning formula.”

Still, there are signs that the celebrity fragrance market may be waning. NPD Group recently reported a 10 percent drop in prestige fragrance retail sales for the first half of 2009.

If sales are flagging, Mormoris hasn’t noticed.

“I keep hearing about it,” laughs Mormoris, who names the Dion and Minogue fragrance lines as two of Coty’s best performers. “But I haven’t seen it.”

(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board’s music industry documentary Dream Machine.)

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

At 73 years old, the Beatles co-founder delivered a set that would leave younger musicians reaching for their water bottles.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sun Oct 18 2015

 

Paul McCartney, 73, churned out an impressive 41 songs during a three-hour marathon at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, with nary a water bottle in sight.

To put this in perspective, most artists play between 18 and 25 songs over an evening concert. Sometimes, for extra-lengthy shows, the number may reach 32 to 34. And these artists often take sips from nearby water bottles, understandably, while performing under hot spotlights.

The co-founder of the Beatles, the most influential group in pop history, needed no refreshments, even after a fireball-laden rendition of the James Bond theme “Live And Let Die,” where there was so much pyrotechnic mayhem during the instrumental chaos that even the audience could easily feel the heat.

Actually, if anything, McCartney — backed by a stellar band that included guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bass player Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens and the spectacular Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums — seemed more invigorated as the show progressed.

In a much chattier mood than the last time he was in Toronto, a jovial McCartney told a few interesting and amusing tales between numbers, joking around with the estimated 18,000 in attendance.

Playing his signature Hohner bass and launching with the Beatles classic “Eight Days A Week,” McCartney offered a fine selection of hits from both the Fab Four and the Wings as well as some obscurities and songs from his latest album, the aptly-named New.

Along with the expected favourites like “The Long And Winding Road,” “Lady Madonna” and “Let It Be” — each adhering to the original arrangements loved and cherished by so many — came a few surprises: “Let Me Roll It,” (which included an instrumental coda of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”) and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” from the Wings’ watershed Band On The Run, “One After 909,” “Another Girl” and “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles, and he dusted off “Mull of Kintyre” for all the Scots in the house complete with pipes and drums from the Paris-Port Dover pipe band.

If that wasn’t enough, McCartney, who still sings gloriously and is as adept on guitar and piano as he is on bass, performed the first half of George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele in tribute to his fallen comrade. He also paid tribute to John Lennon during “Here Today” (after a poignant version of “Blackbird”), calling the number written after Lennon’s assassination “the conversation I wished we had.”

And to show he’s still fresh and vital creatively, McCartney performed his recent Rihanna-Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.”
“Here’s a song I wrote with Kanye West,” he announced, adding the slightly sarcastic quip, “That was fun.”

The highlights were many: the tender “My Valentine” he dedicated to his wife Nancy; “Maybe I’m Amazed,” dedicated to his late first wife Linda; the rocking party atmospheres of “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” and “Back In the U.S.S.R,” and even a false start on the newer “Temporary Secretary” were rendered with McCartney charm and precision.

By the time one of the most influential architects of pop music performed the sing-a-long “Hey Jude,” the concert had become an unabashed love-in between performer and audience.

In a week where Toronto is being spoiled by appearances by the two surviving Beatles — Ringo Starr is at Massey Hall on Tuesday — it is McCartney, concluding his show with the words “see you next time,” who will be the one to produce a concert five years from now as potent and as powerful as the spectacle just witnessed.

Nobody else can keep up with him.

 

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre | Toronto Star

Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto

 

During 1989 tour stop at Rogers Centre Swift gives shout out to the Jays, sings with guest Keith Urban.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 03 2015

When it comes to giving stellar performances, Taylor Swift is in a league of her own.

The 25-year-old singer and songwriter delivered another flawless gem of a concert at Rogers Centre Friday for the first of two sold-out nights, a little more than two years after she gave a flawless gem of a concert at the same venue.

Since 2013, only her musical direction has changed: back then, with the Red tour, Swift was still considered a country music emissary.

For her current 1989 tour, as the opening strains of “Welcome To New York” filled the stadium, Swift declared her new symbolic transformation into pop ingenue by stylishly emerging from the stage in a sparkling jacket, black bustier, short red skirt, a pair of shades and with a dozen male dancers.

For the next two hours, the leggy, willowy blond, who struts down the long catwalk leading to a small stage midway through the stadium like a high-paid model, focused mainly on glittery production numbers from her electronic-driven, multi-million-selling pop album 1989.

These were not mere retreads of the records: “I Knew You Were Trouble” started off slow and sensual, eventually building into a steamy, synth-laden number that bore little resemblance to the uptempo 1989 rendition. On “Blank Space,” she created a vocal loop with the words “Blue Jays” and sang the bridge over it.

There were a few nods to the past — a simply guitar-only accompaniment of “You Belong To Me;” a synth-driven rendition of “Love Story” — both from 2008’s Fearless, and a pair from 2012’s Red, including the catchy “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”

Otherwise, it was all 1989 and the bells and whistles you’d expect at a Taylor Swift show: the giant whirling catwalk, surreal Freudian film clips, colourful dance routines, fireworks — and this show’s special guest, Keith Urban, performing his hits “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Somebody Like You,” with the hostess chiming in occasionally on vocal.

But what separates Swift from every other performer is her ability to connect with her audience outside the music. She doesn’t talk at her fans, she talks with them, and the lengthy observations about emotions she’s experienced seem to stem from sincerity, bringing people into the Pennsylvania native’s world on a level far more personal than most entertainers manage.

It’s a trait that spills into her music and it may just be Taylor Swift’s greatest talent: the world’s most relatable pop superstar.

If opening act Shawn Mendes was even the slightest bit daunted about playing in front of 45,000 people with his acoustic guitar as his only crutch, the Pickering resident didn’t show it.

Going the Ed Sheeran route seems to agree with him, as the Vine-discovered star quickly cajoled the predominantly female crowd to sing along with him on “Life Of The Party,” “Something Big” and his current radio hit, “Stitches.”

Handling himself with great poise, confidence and humility, Mendes has a long, healthy career in front of him.

 

Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto | Toronto Star